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Proper Social Etiquette: 19 Signs & Traits that Make You Classy & Likable

If you hear “etiquette” and think of fancy cotillions and schools for young ladies, think again! Proper social etiquette is nothing more than being decent.

proper social etiquette

You’ve probably heard it said that kids today are losing their manners. At first, you might shrug it off as one of the typical baby boomer gripes.

But maybe you find yourself admitting that there are moments when you agree with them and that we need to get back to some proper social etiquette.

What is proper social etiquette?

Social etiquette is exactly what it sounds like.

If you’re not too familiar with what etiquette actually is, Merriam-Webster defines it as “the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life.” [Read: How to be nice – 20 easy tips to make everyone love being around you]

Good breeding? Prescribed by authority? Seems intense, doesn’t it?

It’s not! Using proper social etiquette is simply following the guidelines and social norms when in social situations. There are certain sets of mostly unspoken rules when it comes to how you’re expected to act in public, and it definitely varies based on the situation.

For example, you wouldn’t act the same way at a business meeting as you would when you’re eating dinner with your family at a restaurant.

Essentially, social etiquette can be viewed as just using your manners. It means being polite, courteous, and respectful of others. All you have to do to show that you have proper social etiquette is behave in a way that helps you to coexist with those around you.

How to have proper social etiquette

Social etiquette is the code that defines proper behavior in the presence of others. It’s the one thing that defines a civilized society.

While this code may change from generation to generation, the most basic aspects of social etiquette are unflinchingly observed for a good reason. [Read: Millennials vs. baby boomers – their night and day differences]

Sadly, however, we might sometimes lose our way and forget the basics.

Older generations always attribute this faux pas to the younger generations, but anyone can be guilty of slipping up no matter their age.

1. Show up for a scheduled meeting

Don’t you just hate it when people ditch a scheduled meeting on short notice? In a professional setting, failing to show up to a meeting or an interview is a big red flag that might hurt someone’s overall impression of you.

However, you should treat all occasions, including casual meetings between friends, with respect and punctuality. It’s improper social etiquette, and honestly just plain frustrating if people fail to show up.

First of all, someone has set aside their time for you, indicating that you matter to them in some way. Disregarding that by not showing up is disrespectful and, in many ways, ungrateful.

Second, if they’re sacrificing their time for you, it’s costing them effort and could be costing them money, among other things. You never know what that person is missing out on doing just because they made time for you. Keep your word and show up.

[Read: Stop the craziness in life – how to deal with rude people]

2. Punctuality

It’s not even that you should simply show up. It’s important that you show up on time.

Being late means losing time, less productivity, stress, and maybe even some resentment.

Whether it’s for a date, a business meeting, or just a casual get-together between friends, being punctual is a basic courtesy and sign of respect. It means that you’re giving your best effort to prioritize whomever you’re meeting and managing your time prior to the event.

3. Dressing appropriately

If you’re going to dress up, make sure it’s appropriate for the event you’re attending.

Don’t use “personal style” as a reason for dressing sloppily! You shouldn’t wear sweats to an upscale restaurant any more than you should wear a semi-formal gown to a basketball game.

Consider the event or meeting you’re going to. Think about the venue, the company you’ll be in, and the occasion itself. Proper social etiquette is as much about appropriate appearance as it is about actual behaviors. Always dress for the occasion.

[Read: How to be graceful and elegant no matter what the occasion]

4. Public fridge etiquette

This one is specifically suited for office refrigerators and shared living spaces.

Don’t eat or take what’s not yours. And if you didn’t put it in there, it’s not yours! The rule of dibs definitely doesn’t apply in this situation.

5. Properly respond to RSVPs

If you receive an invitation, it means that your presence is wanted. Whoever sent it spent time deciding whom to invite to whatever event they’re hosting, and they decided that you’re worth inviting.

It’s a thoughtful gesture, so you should extend the same thoughtfulness and courtesy by properly responding to the invitation in a timely manner.

Ignoring it and not answering is not the same as declining.

There are really only three ways to respond. Say yes or no, or ask them for more time to secure your schedule.

If you don’t respond but show up anyway, you’ll be giving the organizers hell. [Read: How to be more social – 19 ways to genuinely connect with others]

6. Proper phone etiquette

Everyone has a phone, and most of us keep it attached to us at all times. There are a thousand ways to be inconsiderate with your phone, so there are a thousand different rules to follow when considering proper social etiquette.

First of all, never use your phone while you’re having a conversation with someone. Not only is it disrespectful, but it’s also a blatant sign that you’re bored and uninterested in your present company.

If you are in the middle of a conversation and receive a phone call that needs to be answered, take a second to be courteous. Apologize to the person you’re having a conversation with, and politely excuse yourself. Step aside to avoid disturbing others with your phone call.

The same rule applies anytime you’re in public, honestly.

For example, try to avoid talking on the phone while you’re on public transport, out shopping, or out to dinner with your family or friends. If you must, use a softer speaking voice so that you don’t disrupt the people around you. [Read: Simple tips to avoid being rude in any situation]

Additionally, be mindful of your phone and its many noises.

Put your phone on silent mode when necessary. This could be inside a classroom, library, or while you’re at a restaurant with a date.

And for the last time, don’t whip out your phone in the middle of a movie theater.

7. Social media

Almost every social media platform seems to be a dark place where there’s almost no decency or proper social etiquette followed, but that doesn’t mean that certain things should be left unconsidered!

Social media is a perfect place to exercise common decencies.

For instance, stop sharing too much information and airing your dirty laundry. If you’re going to fight with your spouse or partner or hurl expletives and insults at a family member, do it within your personal realm rather than on your Facebook wall. It’s trashy and attention-seeking, and people don’t need to see it.

[Read: Annoying social media users that make you wanna scream]

Second, avoid rude and inappropriate comments. There’s absolutely no reason for you to post sexually objectifying comments on someone’s photo. It’s not even close to a compliment.

Finally, don’t share tasteless stuff. You might find gore, politically charged memes, and other crass humor to your liking, but it doesn’t mean that others do. We know it’s your page, and you can do what you want, but why wouldn’t you want to just be respectful of others by keeping unnecessary nonsense to yourself? [Read: How to be cultured in an age obsessed with social media]

8. When inviting people over, try your best to be a good host

It should go without saying that you might not want to invite people over to a pig sty.

Even if you’re very close to the people you invited, at least consider tidying up a bit. Maybe prepare some refreshments, and make sure all are entertained and attended to.

9. When you’re invited somewhere, be a good guest

Being a guest isn’t nearly as demanding as being a host.

As a guest, your job is pretty simple. You were invited there to enjoy yourself, but proper social etiquette and common courtesy insist that you do a little more than that.

Try to appreciate all that your host is doing for you. Never criticize the quality or quantity of food and drinks, and don’t negate the quality of the décor or size of the place.

As kids, we were all told that if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Well, the same rules apply in adulthood as well. [Read: Surefire ways to be the best houseguest ever]

You should also try to bring something for your host unless you’re specifically instructed not to. Wine, dessert, and flowers are all popular host gifts.

Another polite practice is to offer to help clean up when the event is over. Your host will most likely decline your help, but it never hurts to offer it anyway.

10. Breakup etiquette

Not all breakups have to be messy. In fact, if you use proper social etiquette during a breakup, it might be more pleasant than you expect.

Never break up with someone via text or chat. Most people know this to be a tacky practice, but some of us have become so mindfully dependent on our phones that it seems to make sense.

But it feels inhumane to end a relationship virtually. Whether you’ve been together for three days, three months, or three years, you should take the better path and do the deed in person, no matter how difficult it is.

You should also avoid breaking up with someone in public. Such moments deserve privacy. Have the talk at home or another public place rather than making it a screaming contest on the street.

[Read: The worst ways to break up with someone who loves you]

11. Clean up after your pets

Bring a bag with paper towels, old newspapers, or plastic bags to wrap up the poop after your dog does its business. Be a responsible owner, and never leave your dog filth lying around on the street or in someone else’s yard.

12. Travel etiquette

Traveling provides a whole new set of rules that vary by country. Social norms are pretty different everywhere, but there are some universal etiquette rules to follow.

Be culturally sensitive. The rule of the customer always being right does not apply to every place you visit. You can’t just do whatever you want. Locals usually try their best to be hospitable, but afford them equal courtesy by knowing the dos and don’ts in their home. [Read: 15 reasons why you should travel at least once a year]

If you’re camping, staying in a hotel, or renting a private residence, don’t leave it looking as though a wild animal has torn through. Clean up your own trash and messes rather than leave it for someone else.

13. Use the name of the person you’re speaking to

Names are like magic words.

It’s not only polite to address someone by name, but it also shows that you care enough to remember. It goes a long way in making sure that you’re remembered, too, and will leave them with a great impression of you.

If you’re not certain of their name, it’s okay to ask!

Especially if you’ve only met them in passing once or twice or something similar, you can be casual about it by saying, “I’m so sorry, but what was your name again?”

Most importantly, never assign someone a bogus nickname just because you can’t remember their real name. Referring to someone as “buddy,” “honey,” or simply “hey, you!” is treacherously obvious if you’re not in a friendly enough relationship to greet them that way. [Read: Importance of first impressions – secrets to help you make a good one]

14. Always be a greeter

Greeting people and making sure to say hello is the most simple form of proper social etiquette.

It’s polite and makes others feel acknowledged. A simple but cheerful greeting goes a long way! Smiles are contagious, and handshakes are respectful.

The best part is that greetings are so customizable and can be altered for any occasion.

15. Be sure to express appreciation

Saying thank you is basic etiquette rule number one. Most of us are taught to say thank you as soon as we learn to talk and are continually taught to show appreciation to those around us. [Read: How to be grateful – 20 authentic ways to appreciate and express it]

This is another one of the things that aren’t only polite, but it also goes the extra mile for the other person.

Those that work with the public often get the short end of the stick. A lot of us are grumpy these days, and it only takes one person and their manners to make a difference. Thanking everyone that you deal with on a daily basis is a good practice.

Thank your barista for your coffee and your cashier for ringing up your groceries. You can thank your co-worker for making you laugh and your spouse for their end-of-the-day kisses.

16. Put others in the spotlight

Avoid making everything about you!

A true display of proper social etiquette is putting the focus on someone else. Ask them about how they’re doing. Let them know that you saw their post on Facebook about getting a promotion and are so excited and happy for them. [Read: Helpful ways to stop being a self-centered person]

17. Make eye contact when you’re speaking to someone

We can’t stress how important it really is to engage in your conversations. If you’re looking at everything in the room other than the person you’re speaking to, you’re being awfully rude.

Strong eye contact during conversations shows that you’re listening and genuinely interested in what they’re saying. It’s a sign of respect. Doing the exact opposite and letting your gaze roam around indicates that you couldn’t care less about what this person is talking about.

If eye contact makes you uncomfortable, there are a few tips you can try. First, try looking at the bridge of someone’s nose. Or, rather than telling yourself that you’re going to make eye contact with someone, convince yourself that you’re going to check someone’s eye color.

Just making a small mental shift like that can go a long way to distract yourself from whatever it is about making eye contact that is so uncomfortable for you.

18. Don’t make other people uncomfortable

Know your audience. If you don’t know your audience, keep it neutral.

You really want to skirt around making other people uncomfortable with your jokes, anecdotes, and general behavior.

It’s always a safe bet to not talk about politics, for instance, because some people have such rigid and opposing views. Not only is a political debate pretty uncomfortable for the people involved, but it can be a little cringe-worthy for bystanders. [Read: How to be more social – 22 ways to genuinely connect with others]

Stick to safe topics, unassuming jokes, and light witty banter.

19. Don’t brag about what you do for others

Humility is essentially the cornerstone of proper social etiquette and means that you don’t put yourself on a pedestal. You should stick with the theme of putting others in the spotlight and try to keep it off of yourself.

Good deeds and acts of kindness aren’t really good deeds and acts of kindness if they’re done so that you can boast.

It’s hard to imagine what the world would be like if we didn’t follow some of the basic staples of proper social etiquette. Keep these rules in your pocket so that you don’t become an uncivilized mess!

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Vinod Srinivas Serai
Vin Serai
Vin Serai is the founder of LovePanky.com, and has delved deep into the working of love and relationships for almost two decades. Having dipped his feet in almo...